Carlson students’ classwork doubles as an investment

Nathan Halverson

Carlson Consulting Enterprise generated nearly $100,000 in revenue during its first three months of business this summer.

So you might never guess that Carlson Consulting is a University class.

The Carlson School of Management is taking its master of business administration program to the next level; it now provides classes that double as businesses.

In the spirit of medical programs that require students to practice their profession under the close scrutiny of faculty advisors, Carlson Dean Larry Benveniste has orchestrated the creation of three businesses designed to train master’s degree students.

The businesses, which are University owned, include Carlson Consulting Enterprise, Carlson Ventures Enterprise and Carlson Funds Enterprise.

This combined business and class structure uses a lot more than Monopoly money to train students.

Master’s students accepted into the growth fund class manage two funds worth a combined total of $15 million. They receive advice from faculty, but the responsibility for the Carlson growth fund and the Carlson fixed income fund is solely theirs.

The students involved with Carlson Ventures work with entrepreneurs and business experts to couple University researchers’ new technologies with business plans that can turn a revolutionary theory into a revolutionary product. This class-turned-business has helped make Carlson School one of the 10 largest licensers of intellectual property among universities.

Carlson Consulting, the youngest of the programs, isn’t being outdone by its older siblings.

The group has two major consulting projects with Northwest Cargo – a billon dollar branch of Northwest Airlines that ships cargo worldwide. And with students reporting directly to the company’s president, it is fair to say their advice is being seriously considered.

In fact, the consulting students have already seen some of their advice implemented.

The first students ever admitted to the program worked all summer to identify failures and recommended solutions to fix Northwest Cargo’s delivery system.

The student consultants discovered shipments would sit on docks for an average of two days without being picked up and the delinquent receivers were not being charged. Now, if companies don’t pick up their packages upon arrival, they are charged.

Typically, three students work on consulting projects for 10 to 20 hours per week with a faculty member.

Phil Miller, Carlson Consulting professional director, said the projects usually run 12 weeks to match the semester schedule.

All of the revenue from the classes goes to the University. Some of it covers salary expenses for the professional consultants, like Miller, overseeing the students.

Miller graduated from Carlson with a master of business administration five years ago.

“My experiences here were that classes were great. I really enjoyed the professors. I learned a lot. But when I started my job I didn’t feel like I was as well prepared for the workplace as I might have been,” Miller said. “What we’re trying to do here is build a real professional experience for people. So all of our consultants are working for actual clients who are paying for their work, so they’re expected to be top-notch.

“When you’ve committed to do work for a client and it’s due on a date and you know the president or (chief executive officer) of that division or company is going to be seeing your presentation, it’s a whole different level of commitment.”

Ryan Aytay, a former consultant and current master’s degree student, said his consultant role at Carlson School is “every bit the same” as his work for former employer Deloitte Consulting, where he worked for four years.

But Aytay said he doesn’t think the learning curve is the same.

“You gain more experience here at a faster rate,” he said.

Communication skills are especially expedited at Carlson School, Aytay said. Working with managers and presidents of companies as a master’s student has helped him better understand what clients are looking for when they want changes.

Aytay said at Deloitte, he was much further removed from high-level managers, who wanted particular tasks completed, than in his consulting position at the University. At Deloitte, he had to run suggestions past several levels of managers. At the University, he can deal directly with his clients’ upper management without having to get his ideas rubber stamped.

“It is a really good opportunity to figure out how important it is to have the president in line with the project,” Aytay said. “Because sometimes when you are at the lower level, you don’t understand the scope of the engagement. It helps to get the whole picture.

“It’s like role reversal. I will be able to better understand where they’re coming from.”


Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]